What is this thing called mindfulness

What is this thing called mindfulness

What is this thing called mindfulness
January 15, 2018
What is this thing called mindfulness
January 15, 2018

There are a great many misconceptions, varied perspectives and a large measure of cultural scepticism regarding the “mysterious” practice of mindfulness. Put simply, mindfulness combines scientific rationality with eastern spirituality and presents us with a provocative and refreshing way to look at life. Mindfulness builds bridges between differing worldviews, and the majority of people who follow this practice do so in the hope of reducing negative experiences, becoming more peaceful and improving their ability to regulate their emotions. Only a tiny minority do so for religious reasons. In this article we look at some of the different perspectives of mindfulness.

The modern scientific view of mindfulness is that of a therapeutic tool to reduce negative experiences, develop calmness, regulate emotions and enhance general wellbeing, either as a neurophysiological phenomenon or as a psychotherapeutic protocol. Popular programmes such as the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) courses or Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) position mindfulness at the intersection of eastern spirituality and western scientific rationality. The scientific view of mindfulness is that of a secular therapy used to improve mental and physical wellbeing and to enhance adherents’ sense of self-being.

Another perspective of mindfulness it that of the monk who employs mindfulness as a means of self-cultivation and self-transformation. To some extent, the image of the Buddhist monk represents a classical aspirational image of spiritual development as a way to achieve enlightenment by renouncing materialistic attachments and the pursuit of hedonistic pleasures in favour of contemplating the bigger questions of life. The monk views earthly issues as vacuous and trivial and suggests we that should rather focus on direct experiences, like enjoying the present moment in whatever form. This view confronts the conventional approach to life by suggesting we give up everyday pleasures to focus on attaining wisdom and understanding.

A third view, especially popular amongst younger people, is that of the martial arts practitioner. The character of the ninja has been common in literature and popular culture throughout history and the warrior as spiritual hero represents an ideal of psychic integrity. The ninja or warrior view mindfulness as a strong ethical code to achieve mental discipline. With this approach, mindfulness is seen as the foundation from which to develop psychic integrity, quiet mental control and calculated behaviour. Mindfulness is seen as a selfless approach which gives up the pursuit of senseless pleasures in favour of cultivating a strong resolve of mind and body. It suggests a strong devotion to a life of discipline. The ideal of the warrior calls on us to reflect on our mortality and on our lives as a constant process of confronting and overcoming death.

A different perspective, that of the “zombie”, presents the negative preconception that mindfulness is a disconnection from life. The zombie represents the fear that mindfulness is really a way to tranquilise people into obedience and acceptance. By losing our sense of self we will become what we fear most – mindless zombies drifting about aimlessly. This view suggest that mindfulness will break our connection with the things that make life meaningful and that we will lose our sense of critical judgment and stop thinking positively. This suggests that mindfulness is a collapse of thinking and a form of human humiliation. The zombie is a nightmare of what the after-life might look like. Unlike the monk and the ninja, who see mindfulness as a way to enhance positive aspects of life and reduce suffering, the zombie embodies the idea that mindfulness prevents people from taking control of their lives.

Finally we have the view of the hippie. This counter-cultural approach to mindfulness suggest that it is a practice followed by people who have dropped out of society or, alternatively, is practiced by people who have renounced the conventions of life. Mindfulness is for those who have disengaged, or risen above the mundane boredom of suburban living.

Mindfulness has become part of our social construct and combines considerations of orientalism, secularism and materialism with discipline, rationality and intuition in the attempt to develop awareness, self-transformation and an improved sense of wellbeing. Whichever view you hold, by practicing mindfulness we ultimately hope to gain wisdom, compassion and reduce our suffering. Mindfulness is a personal pursuit. We can practice collectively but we can only transform individually. And whatever approach makes you a more thoughtful person is the right one for you.

These are the types of conversations we have on our journeys to India. Our 20 March trip is fully booked, but places are still open on our following trip, on 26 May 2018. Contact us if you’d like to join.

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  klasie@streetschool.co.za
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Stellenbosch, 7600

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  klasie@streetschool.co.za
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Emotional intelligence is a verb

Emotional intelligence is a verb

Emotional intelligence is a verb
January 8, 2018
Emotional intelligence is a verb
January 8, 2018

A lot of great research has gone into establishing a solid body of knowledge on Emotional Intelligence ranging from the work of pioneer thinker Daniel Goleman to the views of Howard Gardner. EQ has become a recognized dimension with which to navigate effectively though life and a key performance attribute with which to succeed at business. Whenever we think of emotional intelligence, chances are we regard it as something we can learn rationally with our brains, to ultimately enhance our interpersonal relationships. And to think we are going to improve our EQ by doing a quick online assessment and workshop is to commoditize our individual uniqueness. As humans we have a non-negotiable responsibility to be emotionally aware and there is a much bigger aspect to consider which stands at the very foundation of our spiritual growth. This is where I would like to take your attention if you don’t mind.

The ultimate benefit of becoming more aware and intelligently in control of our emotions touches the very essence of being human. Becoming emotionally intelligent requires us to appreciate others with a deep sense of compassion. We need the wisdom to see the difference between the person, and the act – an insight often not recognized. To develop such compassion and a non-judgmental respect for others and ourselves, we need to cultivate a new language. A language of the heart. With a transcendent energy force that speaks from beyond the rational mind. Whereas one could go a long way to understand the finer nuances of EQ by reading about it and doing self-assessments, it’s only when it gets contemplated upon, and mindfully rooted into our hearts, that it becomes second nature. At this level of consciousness, EQ enable us to deal better with our afflictive (negative) emotions like anger, greed, hatred and resentment on a path of spiritual growth.

Semantically, EQ can be considered as a verb – something we do (acting with emotional awareness), or as a noun – something we are (being intelligently aware of self and others). The two go hand in hand. We first need to transform ourselves internally on a deep level to become more aware, compassionate and understanding of others, before we can act emotionally in an intelligent way. And only when we act towards others in an emotionally intelligent way, can we think of ourselves as being emotionally intelligent.

Finally, to be emotionally intelligent presupposes that we have someone or some thing with whom to interact intelligently with. Emotional intelligence requires responsiveness like an echo calling us to connect and interact in a way befitting to the full potential of our human-ness. The words of Rabbi Hillel comes to mind when he said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?

Get in touch
   +27 82 554 4614
  klasie@streetschool.co.za
   10 Repens Street, Paradyskloof,
Stellenbosch, 7600

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Get in touch
   +27 82 554 4614
  klasie@streetschool.co.za
   10 Repens Street, Paradyskloof,
Stellenbosch, 7600

Accreditations
Choose a new attitude

Choose a new attitude

Choose a new attitude
November 26, 2017
Choose a new attitude
November 26, 2017

Sometimes when we are in Dharamsala, we meet with Dr Lobsang Sangay, the Tibetan Prime Minister and a Harvard Law graduate, now in his fifties. Dr Sangay moved from the USA to India in 2009 in order to become the first Prime Minister of the Tibetan government in exile.

During one of our meetings with Dr Sangay, someone asked him if he had to sacrifice a lot moving from Boston to Dharamsala. With a PhD from Harvard you can only imagine what kind of success was waiting for him in corporate America! Jokingly, he answered: “I gave up Starbucks frappe-chinos for Dharamsala.” And anyone who has been to India will know what he means.

However, he turned serious and revealed his truth, which I will never forget for as long as I live. He said: “I’m not making a sacrifice, I’m making a contribution.”

With this one simple statement, Dr Sangay points to the most powerful ability we have to change the way we look at life – our attitude. His attitude to make a contribution, to make a difference, rather than to make a sacrifice is potentially life changing and most definitely life enriching.

Hardship with no clear reason why, devoid of any meaning, is mindless suffering. That is despair. But suffering or hardship with a reason why, can be meaningful. As humans, we have the ability to re-orientate our attitude and change the way we look at things. And we are able to turn mindless suffering into a purposeful quest for meaning if we understand the reasons why. Like Nietzsche said about 150 years ago “He who has a strong enough why, can withstand any how.”

This is the kind of stuff we talk about on the trips to Dharamsala. Our next journey is from 20 to 30 March 2018 and we are open for bookings. Please let us know if you or someone you know is interested to join us.

Get in touch
   +27 82 554 4614
  klasie@streetschool.co.za
   10 Repens Street, Paradyskloof,
Stellenbosch, 7600

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Get in touch
   +27 82 554 4614
  klasie@streetschool.co.za
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Stellenbosch, 7600

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Monk Ven Bagdro on his suicide attempts

Monk Ven Bagdro on his suicide attempts

Monk Ven Bagdro on his suicide attempts
November 13, 2017
Monk Ven Bagdro on his suicide attempts
November 13, 2017

Every time we go to Dharamsala, India to interact with the Tibetan community, I meet with this one monk Ven Bagdro who was jailed by the Chinese for 3 years in the late 1980’s and submitted to severe abuse and torture. Tibet was invaded by China during the 1950’s as a result of which the Dalai Lama and about 80,000 other Tibetans escaped to safety in India. The remaining Tibetans in what is now called China are submitted to cultural genocide and one of them was Ven Bagdro. Although I don’t want to share his life story in this article, his views on suicide are very insightful.

Chatting to him recently I asked Ven “what kept you alive while you were in jail?” Knowing that he tried to commit suicide several times to end the torture and abuse, I wanted to get a better understanding of how he managed to get through this ordeal eventually. Especially since he seems to be a happy fully functioning human being writing books living normally. Without batting an eyelid he said, “it wasn’t my karma”. In our language this will translate into, “it wasn’t meant to be”, or it wasn’t my destiny or it was fate. But karma as seen by someone like Bagdro is far more active than “fate”. We look at fate mostly in a passive way with the shrug of the shoulder. Often commenting that it is “just one of those things”. But karma as seen by Bagdro is an active phenomenon of interrelated cause and effect. And according to him he has not done anything wrong. He was fighting a just cause in the right way. And he had the right motivations. So this feeling that it wasn’t meant to be comes from a very deep personal philosophical foundation. This belief, translated itself into an attitude, which filled him a defiant energy to overcome anything the Chinese could through at him. Essentially his deep-rooted beliefs manifested into an attitude modulation that filled him with death defying energy and purpose. This is an example of how someone can find meaning to keep on living despite the circumstances.

He made a second comment. “If I would die”, he said, “I would have neglected the Tibetan people and HH the Dalai Lama”. “I would have neglected my duty and it was my life task to survive and tell the rest of the world what is happening here in Tibet”. Here he point to the refuge one gest from doing something for someone or something other than oneself when confronted with potentially depressive situations.

Ven Bagdro points towards two very important antidotes to depression and suicidal tendencies. And whereas this may be seen as an over simplification. It nevertheless gives us a clue of how better understand someone suffering from depression – doing something for someone or some thing other than ourselves, and defiantly taking a stand no matter what the circumstances. Both of these may not be easy to access for anyone suffering from depression, the point however is that the connection points exist and with the tools of Logotherapy, counsellors or coaches could be of meaningful assistance.

After his escape from China (Tibet) to India, Ven met with HH the Dalai Lama as all escapees do. Telling the Dalai Lama his story, Ven urged HH to allow the Tibetans to take up arms. “The time is right to fight back,” he told the Dalai Lama. According to Ven the Dalai Lama smiled and proceeded to convince him to rather take up the pen and write books about the Tibetan situation. “There are many Chinese,” the Dalai Lama told him. “Many more than us Tibetans and and they will wipe out our nation very quickly.” And more importantly the Dalai Lama said, “Fighting is not the right way to approach this situation”. “No”, the Dalai Lama said to Ven, “take up the pen”. So very time I see Van Bagdro in the streets of Dharamsala, I know there goes a monk on a mission, with a smile on his face despite his circumstances.

This is the kind of stuff we experience on our journeys. Call me if you want to join the next one from 20 to 30 March 2018.

Get in touch
   +27 82 554 4614
  klasie@streetschool.co.za
   10 Repens Street, Paradyskloof,
Stellenbosch, 7600

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Get in touch
   +27 82 554 4614
  klasie@streetschool.co.za
   10 Repens Street, Paradyskloof,
Stellenbosch, 7600

Accreditations

Trekking can be cold

Trekking can be cold

Trekking can be cold
October 29, 2016
Trekking can be cold
October 29, 2016

An icy wind was gusting off the Himalayan peaks, bounced off the freezing Khumbu River and attacked our faces. At 4,400 meter above sea level our group of 12 trekkers were slowly inching our way up a valley towards Everest Base Camp. One of our trekkers, Ntokozo, a cancer survivor, was not doing well. For the past 6 days, her oxygen levels were steadily dropping and she was showing signs of advanced altitude sickness. As we reached our lunch spot at the foot of a very steep pass, a tearful Ntokozo flopped onto a bench outside the teahouse and said “I can’t go on”.

Having spent 8 months preparing for this trek, and assigned to post some flags for cancer victims who have passed over the years, her decision was not to be taken lightly. As an ambassador for the Breast Health Foundation, Ntokozo had an important mission – to show that cancer can be beaten, and that it is possible to defy this terrible illness to lead a healthy active live. But her responsibilities did not come without a heavy price. What weighed her down were feelings of guilt and incessant questions of why she survived when so many others perished. Her aim to do the trek in memory for those who have died, and set an example for other women struggling with cancer, was about to be crushed.

A quick team regroup was called and we decided to evacuate Ntokozo by helicopter to a hospital in Kathmandu. As I waited with her we spoke about goals, not reaching them, not finishing what one set out to do, and how to deal with unfinished business. Seven days later I caught up with a recovered Ntokozo in Kathmandu. “I have something important to tell you,” she said. Over a cup of tea she told me of an amazing development. “I almost died on that mountain, and as I was recovering in hospital, I came to understand what it was like to die. Because I survived I can now stand up and fight for those who have passed on.” This was an amazing account of overcoming severe physical exhaustion, changing attitudes and saying yes to life.

Ntokozo is one of the stories you will hear in the documentary “One Step at a Time” that will be flighted on Discovery TLC Channel 135 tomorrow – Monday 30 October at 20:55 with repeats on Tuesday 31 October at 15:25 and Wednesday 1 November at 09:05.

Check out when our next Everest Base Camp trip is planned

Get in touch
   +27 82 554 4614
  klasie@streetschool.co.za
   10 Repens Street, Paradyskloof,
Stellenbosch, 7600

Accreditations
Get in touch
   +27 82 554 4614
  klasie@streetschool.co.za
   10 Repens Street, Paradyskloof,
Stellenbosch, 7600

Accreditations
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